SAN FRANCISCO -- Eat. Sleep. Sail. For 24 rigorous days at sea, life's basic necessities blended with staying alive as Stephanie Evans achieved her ambitious goal of crossing the Pacific Ocean aboard the 70-foot racing yacht GREAT Britain.
Evans, 29, of Oakland, along with her all-British crewmates, came in first place during the 10th leg of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, smashing by 15 hours the previous record of 603 hours and 53 minutes as they cruised beneath the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday night.
Evans' friends from the Cal Sailing Club, where she's commodore, sailed out to greet her, holding up a big welcome sign with a heart and passing beers aboard.
Evans said she drew inspiration and courage from the other crew members.
"Something like this shows you what you're made of," she said. "It's absolutely worth the risk to go on an adventure."
The crew of 18 left Qingdao, China, for San Francisco on March 16, enduring wind gusts up to 90 mph and maximum wave heights of 25-30 feet. Fortunately the wind mostly came from behind, so they were spared the brunt of sailing windward. At one point, the wind meter broke at 99 knots and the spinnaker was torn to shreds, but all in all it was a great trip, Evans said.
"Once I was in it, it was more fun than I imagined," she said. "I thought it was going to be a miserable slog."
Evans grew up sailing in South Africa and lived in England for four years before moving to Wisconsin. She was just 18 when her father, Tony, also an offshore sailor, died of a heart attack at the age of 55.
One night, Evans was at the helm of GREAT Britain with cold, pelting rain hitting her face as the boat surfed down huge waves at an exhilarating speed of 23 knots. She said she giggled and screamed with excitement, thinking at that moment how proud her dad would be.
"It was pitch black, and I started crying, it was such an overwhelming experience," Evans said. "I thought, wow, I wish my dad could see me now."
She also enjoyed the action of working the deck, grinding winches and doing sail changes. But midway through the trip she felt a sense of being alone and had pangs of homesickness.
"The exhilaration and the novelty of it wore off about halfway through," Evans said.
A card given by her co-workers which read, "Open when you need a taste of home," along with e-mails and limericks from family and friends helped lift her spirits.
Evans said she learned a lot about humility, compassion and letting go of her quest for perfection. She plans to do more ocean racing in the future.
"If this trip has done one thing, it's made me really grateful for the life I have," she said.